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Scotland's Social Security Bill can still have equality at its heart

Today the Scottish Parliament will hear from Engender that the principle of equality and non-discrimination needs to be written into the Social Security Bill if the newly devolved powers are to move Scotland towards women’s equality.

The Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee has been taking evidence about the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which creates a framework for how newly devolved social security powers will be used. The Bill lays the groundwork for a number of social security programs that will now be administered by the new social security agency, and also sets out the outlines of the new system. But we think it is not yet clear that the new social security arrangements will reduce women’s inequality.

Emma Ritch, Engender’s Executive Director said:

“Women are twice as dependent on social security as men, and make up two thirds of workers earning below the living wage, so it is vital that Scotland’s social security system is designed in such a way to relieve women's economic inequality.

"We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment that social security should be built on values of dignity and respect, using a human rights based approach, but know this cannot happen unless the principles of equality and non-discrimination are included within the Bill itself.

We hope that amendments will be used to include equality and non-discrimination as key principles in the text of the Bill, ensuring that they are at the heart of Scotland’s social security system.

Emma says:

“Scotland has the unique opportunity of building a social security system from the ground up. It is both possible and essential to develop a social security system that can respond and meet the needs of women. We look forward to welcoming amendments which will improve the proposed legislation, ensuring that the social security system in an integral part of achieving women’s equality in Scotland.”

Our evidence to the Social Security Committee will highlight a range of procedural, advocacy, and scrutiny concerns that may undermine women's equality and rights:

“The law requires that women's equality be considered as part of the development of any Scottish Government policy or piece of legislation. Our new social security system will work better if it has an independent scrutiny body, procedural fairness, independent advocacy for those who rely on social security, and participation of women in the system's design and implementation."

Engender also wishes to see all of Scotland's new social security powers used for the benefit of women in Scotland, including the flexibility to pay Universal Credit to individuals instead of households.

“Offering individual payments of Universal Credit is vital for women’s equality in Scotland, and has been a key call from women’s organisations since the devolution of social security powers to the Scottish Parliament. We want to see Universal Credit flexibilities appear in the text of the Bill, and will continue to make the case that household payments entrench women’s inequality and in so doing create a conducive context for violence against women .”

Other women’s equality organisations including Scottish Women's Aid and Close the Gap have supported Engender’s calls for equality to be at the heart of the social security system.

Lindsey Millen, Policy Manager of Close the Gap said:

“It is essential that gender equality is embedded in the social security Bill. Women shoulder the burden of unpaid care which constrains their participation in employment, and in education. Scottish Government must move towards a system that values carers, and recognises their contribution to Scotland’s economy. The public sector equality duty requires Scottish Government to take proactive steps to advance gender equality in everything it does, and this Bill is an opportunity to effect real change in the lives of some of the most vulnerable women in Scotland.

"Close the Gap supports the call for a gendered analysis in the design and implementation of newly devolved social security powers, and urges Scottish Government to grasp this opportunity to address the barriers to employment faced by women, and to advance women’s economic equality.”

Marsha Scott, CEO of Scottish Women's Aid, said:

"Women and children’s experiences of domestic abuse are inextricably linked to their experiences of poverty, of a horrendously uneven playing field in the paid labour market, of a horribly expensive and inaccessible child care system, of little or no power in their personal, public and private lives. Scotland has for 20 years committed to ending domestic abuse by ending women’s inequality. Getting our social security system fit for the lives of women and children is a long overdue and most welcome opportunity to begin to put in place real solutions. Scottish Women’s Aid, our 36 services around Scotland, and the thousands of women and children we help every day enjoin the Scottish Government to place the highest priority on getting our system right to help put right the wrongs of domestic abuse and systematic discrimination in Scotland."

Engender will be appearing at the evidence session alongside the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. Following evidence sessions, it is expected that amendments to the Bill will be proposed.

You can see our written response to the consultation here.

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